Iowa Results: What They Mean

by Troy M. Olson

Generations Pol. Cartoon

(Part One of Two)

2016 Iowa caucus results: 

Hillary Clinton won by a coin toss (figuratively speaking, but potentially literally depending on who you ask) last night, Bernie Sanders outperformed his poll numbers to gain a delegate and statistical tie, Ted Cruz becomes the evangelical candidate of this cycle, and Marco Rubio is the “comeback kid” of the night. The real story though? Two things: one, I am right about the 2016 Presidential Election, so far. Two, the Bernie Sanders candidacy represents the beginning of the “Millennial Consensus.”

Breaking down the results, there has been a lot of digital ink spilled alright, and as usual, 90 percent of it has been hyperbole. To the best of my abilities and as objective as I can be, here is what I think the 2016 Iowa Presidential Caucus results mean, and what they don’t mean.

What The Results Mean:

Bernie Sanders, as a candidate, but more importantly, his message, issues, and voter coalition – represent the beginning of the “Millennial Consensus”

There was a clear generational divide last night within the Democratic Party. Over-40 Democrats went easily for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders won under-40 Democrats, and especially under-30 Democrats by a landslide. Only time will tell for certain, but it has already been argued that Sanders changed the Democratic Party last night. I agree.

The Democratic Party has been hemorrhaging older voters and been solidly winning younger voters for quite awhile now. Yet, the leadership of the Democratic Party, both politically and in public office is far older and considerably less diverse than the coalition that has supported them. This is a problem. And it will continue to manifest itself if not corrected. However, the politics and policies of Bernie Sanders, like Barack Obama before him, have had a lasting pull on young people, especially a generation who is constantly derided in the media by the generations in power.

This does not mean I think Bernie Sanders will win. I predicted at the end of last year that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President. I predict she will also be the next President, and I further predict that the Democratic Party will sink to its lowest lows in over 100 years within the next half-decade. While they do not have the voter coalition to match, Democrats would be wise to follow what they GOP has done the last few cycles – recruit and encourage younger candidates en masse to run for office.

Hillary Clinton’s voting coalition and the establishment that backs it proves that the ruling Baby Boomer Generation is still very much in charge of the Democratic Party. While Baby Boomers also still run the Grand Ole Party, the establishment’s grasp on power is slipping further by the day and unlike the last few cycles, the GOP has many younger Generation X candidates that will help their party get a bit younger while the Democrats trot out the same faces we have seen for years.

Bernie Sanders has injected important issues into the race, but at 74 years old he is a poor vessel to accomplish and implement these changes. Rather, Bernie may just end up being the Barry Goldwater of the left. When Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, mere years after he was considered too conservative and too radical by the DC Beltway and political establishment, many movement conservatives credited the failed Goldwater ’64 candidacy as being historically necessary to wrestle the mainstream of the Republican Party away from the Northeast, moderate-to-liberal, Rockefeller wing of the party.

If the Democratic Party is to ever again reach the heights of FDR’s New Deal, Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, Johnson’s Great Society, and the large congressional majorities that accompanied those years, they need to first decide what type of party they are going to be. They need to go through that intra-party, soul-searching battle like the Republicans did in 1964.

I don’t think Bernie Sanders can win (the reasons why to be explained in Part Two of this article), but he can be the prophetic candidate that makes winning possible down the road.

On the GOP side, Marco Rubio, by peaking at the right time and surpassing expectations, is now the front-runner. People on the Street, defense contractors, and “chicken-hawk” advocates for the Iran War from 2017 to 2029 (or 2021 to 2033) can rest easy. The GOP establishment has a viable candidate that is actually winning some votes.

Yes, it’s true Ted Cruz won the Iowa Republican Presidential Caucus. This means he is likely to be the Rick Santorum (2012) and Mike Huckabee (2008) of this cycle. Cruz will finish with either the 2nd or 3rd most delegates when it is all said and done. Even a solid victory in South Carolina will not make Ted Cruz the GOP favorite. He faces a fundamental problem. No one likes him. He inspires no love. And only in the days of the smoke-filled rooms at the convention where a dozen or so people chose the nominee of their party can someone so fundamentally unloved and widely disliked become a major party nominee for President.

If you want a more empirical basis for how hard of a road it will be Cruz, consider the fact that the blue, delegate-rich states are that way in both parties. There are more delegates to net in Florida, California, Texas, New York, etc. than Iowa, South Carolina, and SEC primary states that Cruz is likely to do well in. Evangelicals may make up a sizable part of the Republican Primary electorate if they show up, but they are only influence makers that are part of a strategy, they cannot be the strategy to winning the nomination. Outside of his home state of Texas, does anyone think Cruz beats Rubio or Trump, who has the highest name recognition in a large state?

I’m not saying Cruz has no chance, I’m saying his “slight” upset win over the Donald, does not make him the front-runner, and he has a long road to the nomination still.

One factor that plays in Cruz’s favor, is the stubbornness of the Duke of Bullingdon. Jeb Bush received less than 3 percent of the vote last night. He should probably drop out now, but he won’t because he can’t. His stubbornness will cost the GOP greatly if it drags on past a 5th place or worse NH primary finish.

Really, if he doesn’t finish ahead of Rubio in NH, or even Kasich, he needs to drop out. A surprise finish in NH can keep John Kasich’s campaign going, because he is largely undefined to the electorate, but Bush needs a huge “comeback kid” moment. His performance all year has been lackluster and confusing. It would be a shame and deeply unpatriotic of Jeb to keep dragging this out in an “outlast everyone because I’m a Duke” strategy, especially in a year where there is fundamentally more energy on the GOP side. Their chances, if they nominate someone like Rubio or Kasich, are pretty much a 50-50 proposition historically.

Last night, over 187,000 turned out to caucus on the GOP side, while about 140,000 turned out on the Democratic side. Granted, the GOP has a million candidates and the Democrats had three, but the possibility for an enthusiasm gap looms large for November.

The Field Matters Most (for the 100th time).

Donald Trump reportedly spent as much on those “Make America Great Again” hats as he did on his field organization. In close races, and especially close races at the Iowa Caucus, organization matters. While the polling could have been off, Trump under-performed his polling by 8 points. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders outperformed his poll numbers, that is what a good organization is able to do. Hillary’s field effort was also reportedly far better than it was in 2007-08.

A good field and turnout effort can make all the difference in a close race. One of the reasons Obama beat Clinton eight years ago was because his organization was better. The strategy was better. Chalk this up to the fact that Trump knows less about American politics than a sophomore political science major. I’ve worked with candidates who spent lots of money and time on stuff that does not matter. Do yard signs, hats, swag help with name recognition? Yes, a little bit. Especially if you don’t have it. However, nearly everyone in the country, especially people who never think about politics, knows who Donald Trump is. He is a celebrity candidate in an age where the distinction between entertainment and politics is growing thin. He did not need to invest half a million dollars on hats. But I digress.

Tomorrow I will post my thoughts on “What The Results Do Not Mean.” Here is a preview:


  1. That Bernie Sanders should be considered the favorite (he is still very much the underdog)
  2. That Hillary Clinton is in trouble (she’s not)
  3. That Donald Trump is done (as long as he wins the NH Primary, he is still very much in the race because of near-universal name recognition)
  4. That the establishment of both parties, and therefore the Washington D.C. to Wall Street nexus is in trouble (they’re not, it’s not)


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